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Wes Anderson Covers New Ground With 'Mr. Fox'

Director Wes Anderson has worked on a lot of film projects, but with his latest film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, he ventured into new territory: animation. Anderson says that making a stop-motion picture is the most involved filmmaking he's ever done, but he also says that the process has "a sort of magic."

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Other segments from the episode on November 23, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 23, 2009: Interview with Wes Anderson; Review of the television show "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Transcript

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Wes Anderson Covers New Ground With 'Mr. Fox'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. One of the films opening for
Thanksgiving is "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which was directed and co-written
by my guest, Wes Anderson. He also made the films "Rushmore," "The Royal
Tennenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited." "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is
Anderson's first animated film. It uses miniature animal puppets and
miniature sets, animated through stop-motion photography to create a
visually amazing world.

The story is adapted from a children's book by Roald Dahl, but the movie
adds new characters and storylines. At the beginning of the story,
Mr. Fox moves his wife and son to a new home near three evil farmers.
Mr. Fox has promised Mrs. Fox that he'll never steal chickens again
because as a father, he couldn't risk being captured, but he succumbs to
his animal instincts and steals some of the farmers' chickens. After
that, the farmers are on the warpath against Mr. Fox and his family.

Wes Anderson, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on the film.
Now, I never read Roald Dahl. I never read "Fantastic Mr. Fox," but I
got a copy after seeing your film. What did the book mean to you, and
why did you want to adapt it into a film?

Mr. WES ANDERSON (Director, "Fantastic Mr. Fox"): Well, it was the first
Roald Dahl book that I ever read as a child, and I became a huge fan of
Dahl, and he was a big part of my childhood. For some reason, this book
was the one I always kept with me.

Wherever I lived, when I went to college, I always had this book on my
shelves. It's not a very – it's a slim book, and it's really kind of – I
think it's for young children, but something about it always stuck with
me. And I think the character of Mr. Fox is a very Dahl kind of figure,
and he's the one who rescues everybody, but he's also the cause of all
of their problems, and his personality gets them into these problems in
the first place. And I think something about that grabbed me.

And at a certain point, I started thinking I would like to do a stop-
motion film, and a stop-motion film with puppets with fur. And this
really, you know, it was a good opportunity for that. This connected
with that.

GROSS: You've added a lot of adult themes to this children's story, and
by adult, I don't mean sexual. I mean more existential.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And, like, Mr. and Mrs. Fox used to steal chickens, but after
getting trapped and nearly getting killed or losing their freedom in a
cage, he swears he's going to give up stealing chickens, and he becomes
a newspaper columnist instead. But he still has the hunger for chickens
and for the adventure, and he has an existential crisis. You know, who
is he? Is he a fox?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah. I think he likes the word existentialism more than
anything else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I want to play a clip in which he decides to go back to stealing
chickens again, and he enlists his not-very-bright possum friend to be
his accomplice. So this is Mr. Fox with his friend, the possum, Kylie.

(Soundbite of film, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Mr. Fox) Who am I, Kylie?

Mr. WALLACE WOLODARSKY (Actor): (As Kylie) Who, how, what now?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Why a fox? Why not a horse or a beetle or a
bald eagle? I'm saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who
am I, and how can a fox ever be happy without a – you'll forgive the
expression – a chicken in its teeth?

Mr. WOLODARSKY: (As Kylie) I don't know what you're talking about, but
it sounds illegal.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Here, put this bandit hat on. Maybe you’re a
medium. Take it off for a minute, don't wear it around the house.

GROSS: I really love that. So what does it mean to be a fox? I love the
idea that these animals are – that this animal in particular is having
an identity crisis about whether he should be overcoming his fox
instincts or not.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, he's a bit obsessed with the idea of being a wild
animal.

GROSS: And, you know, the creatures in the film, you know, like, they're
all dressed as humans with, like, you know, suits and ties and dresses,
but – and – you know, they have, like, kitchens and living rooms and
furniture, but underneath it all, I mean, they're animals.

So, like, there's this wonderful scene at the kitchen table where
Mr. Fox is reading a newspaper, and Mrs. Fox brings out the pancakes for
the family. But once they start eating, they just like…

(Soundbite of snorting)

GROSS: …like, you know, like animals because that's what they are, and
it's so funny.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And there's another scene like that I want to play, just to give
our listeners a sense of the story. And this is a scene where Mr. Fox,
played by George Clooney, is talking to his lawyer, a badger played by
Bill Murray. And the lawyer is advising him not to move into a house
right near the really mean farmers, who would probably like to kill a
fox. So here's that scene.

(Soundbite of film, "Fantastic Mr. Fox")

Mr. BILL MURRAY (Actor): (As Badger) In summation, I think you just got
to not do it, man, that's all.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) I understand what you're saying, and your
comments are valuable, but I'm going to ignore your advice.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Badger) The cuss you are.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) The cuss am I? Are you cussing with me?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Badger) No, are you cussing with me?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Don't cuss and point at me.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Badger) You're going to cuss with someone, you're not
going to cuss with me, you little cuss.

(Soundbite of snarling)

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Just buy the tree.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Badger) Okay.

GROSS: I love that, the way they actually, like, become animals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, it kicks in.

GROSS: Yeah, and you use the word cuss through the movie instead of the
F-word. How did you decide cuss would be your substitute?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, I don't even remember. I think it was just to use
the – to try to use the concept of profanity as a replacement for the
profanity itself. It turns out to be very versatile.

GROSS: Yes. You do use it very versatilely. So, I just loved watching
the movie because it's all done in miniatures. Like, there's, like,
miniature puppets that are moved around very slowly for the stop-motion
photography, which I'll have you explain in a moment. But the animals in
the film, particularly the foxes, reminded me of these old photos that I
used to love as a kid - I used to see them as postcards, of cats dressed
as people, wearing, like, flower dresses and suits and ties and doing
things that only people do, sitting at picnic tables or dining room
tables and being very, you know, very civilized and proper.

And there's just always something that fascinated me, and it was all
very detailed, like intricate little flowers on the dresses that the,
you know, female cat would wear. Did you know those cards?

Mr. ANDERSON: They – it sounds familiar. I think there's a sort of
diorama quality of some of this because we wanted to make – we wanted
the animals and the settings to be pretty realistic, given the fact that
they're going to be wearing corduroy and, you know, that they're going
to talk and stand on their hind legs. We wanted – you know, we wanted
eyes and fur and textures that were naturalistic.

GROSS: So describe how you designed them. Like, as the director and co-
writer of the film, did you actually create the miniature animals?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes. You know, a movie like this – the process - I didn't
know what it was going to be like to make this movie when we started
out. I had a – I sort of had this thought that we were going to – that I
was going to make the script and work on the sets and then sort of
prepare the shots and have this plan and then hand it over to a team of
animators, and they were going to hand me back a film a year later or
something. I was going to put an order for one "Fantastic Mr. Fox,"
according to these specifications, and they would send it back.

That was not what happened. It ends up being the most involving kind of
filmmaking that I've ever had anything to do with and very fun. But the
thing you quickly realize is that everything that is going to go on
camera has to be manufactured from scratch. Everything has to be
designed, and that means every little prop and every little moment is
going to have a lot of thought go into it. And it's an opportunity, but
it's not going to take care of itself. Nothing's going to just be
discovered, like stumbling across a location.

GROSS: You have to create the bodies of the animals, the clothes they
wear, the houses they live in, the street they live on, the sunrise, the
sunset, you know, the ground beneath their feet. You have to create
absolutely everything.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, it actually was quite – you know, it's rare that you
get the chance to say, I have an idea for a cloud that I want to do.
It's going to be, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDERSON: And you know, the leaves and trees and everything.

GROSS: You know, there's something really special, and I can't explain
exactly why I find it so appealing, about miniatures. I mean, there's
something so just fascinating about miniatures, whether it's, you know,
like miniature animals or, you know, miniature trains, or you know the
whole…

Mr. ANDERSON: I agree.

GROSS: Why is that? What is so wonderful about miniatures?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, you know, I always – I used to take the train, in
fact I just did. I don't know I said – I did, actually, my girlfriend
and I took the train a week and a half ago from Los Angeles to New York.
When you do that, you end up in Chicago for about five hours. And every
time I would go across, I would go to the basement of the Chicago Art
Institute, where they have this thing called the Thorne Collection of
Miniatures – Miniature Rooms.

And it's rooms throughout history in different kinds of houses and
apartment buildings, and they’re just empty – they're rooms, and there
are no people, there are just rooms filled with furniture that sort of
demonstrates styles of different eras. And it's always jammed down
there. It's filled with people. This is not a – you know, this is not
the new exhibition for the season. This is the thing that's been there
for the last 85 years or something, and people are just staring through
the glass at these little rooms, and they are very fascinating.

And I have always felt the same way. I always want to go back and look
at these tiny rooms that I'm already familiar with. There's something
about things being miniaturized that makes them – that gives them a
special kind of charm. And I think with stop-motion, it's the
combination of miniature with the idea that someone is taking these –
you sort of sense that someone is taking these and moving them around
and bringing them to life through some sort of handmade process that's
just like a sort of magic. It's like toys.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Wes Anderson. We're
talking about the new movie that he directed and co-wrote, "Fantastic
Mr. Fox." It's all done in miniature and in stop-motion photography. And
Wes Anderson also wrote and directed "Rushmore," "The Royal Tennenbaums"
and "Darjeeling Limited." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll
talk some more about "Fantastic Mr. Fox." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Wes Anderson, and he directed and wrote the movies
"Rushmore," "The Royal Tennenbaums," "Darjeeling Limited." His new film
is "Fantastic Mr. Fox." It's an adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's
book, except this is kind of revised, and it’s - there's lots of adult,
as well as children's stuff in it, and it's all done through stop-motion
photography and miniature puppets.

Why don't you describe how stop-motion photography works.

Mr. ANDERSON: Sure, yes. Stop-motion is – it's that technique where you
– I'll describe it, particularly in relation to our movie. It's puppets,
and in our case, these puppets have metal skeletons inside them. So if
you move them a little bit, they stay in position.

So the animator moves the puppets one frame at a time, and each time he
moves it, it's – so to complete an action, he poses it many, many times
and takes a picture each time he re-poses it, and then those are played
back quickly, and it appears to move around. And that's really the basic
technique of the whole movie, this old-fashioned style of animation.

GROSS: So do you need to have a little bit of OCD, obsessive-compulsive
disorder, to work in stop-time animation because everything has to be
handmade, and then you have to move each puppet, like, a fraction of an
inch for each frame that you're shooting?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, well, it's, you know, the people who actually do the
physical process of animating, they have to be experts. They have to be
very experienced, and they have to be supremely talented to do this. And
there aren't that many people that do it. So it's a special personality
type, it's special talents.

And, you know, when you prepare a shot for a stop-motion film, when you
prepare the shot, you draw what you want, you know, what you want the
shot to be. You've recorded the voices already, and you work with the
animator to make a plan of what's going to happen in time. The animator
has a sheet that's prepared that shows what happens on each frame. So
when you study this sheet, you'll see on frame 220, a character is
beginning to lift his arm and pronouncing a sh-sound. You know, it's
down to the syllables. You know, there's four frames where he's
pronouncing sh, and then he's moving to the next thing.

It's the most-detailed preparation you could possibly have for a shot,
and yet, each animator will surprise you with how he interprets this
incredibly precise plan. And that's sort of the part that you just can't
understand. Something happens, you know, they work in this very, very
gradual process, but they're doing something that it just – that really
is like magic. And it isn't just moving the puppet around, it's making
it seem like it's alive.

GROSS: Right, and now I want you to just, like, describe in detail one
of the puppets, maybe Mr. Fox.

Mr. ANDERSON: Okay. Mr. Fox, that puppet is, let's say he's maybe 13
inches tall, the main puppet, which the main puppet – I'll explain what
I mean. There are different scales. So a full-scale, what we call a
full-scale Mr. Fox puppet is about 13 inches tall. It has this steel or
titanium skeleton that has joints in it and even joints in the fingers
and many bones in the face, and it has fur over it. It has eyes that
move around separately, and you can move them with a little pin, and his
costume.

GROSS: Describe the costume.

Mr. ANDERSON: The costume is a sort of rust-colored corduroy suit with a
terrycloth shirt with yellow zigzags on it. And he has – you know, one
of the things – you know, I saw one of our people making something one
day. I was, like, what are you working on? It was – he has little stalks
of wheat in his pocket, like cigars or something. And this – one of our,
one of the people who works in the props department was making wheat.
And to see somebody make tiny, tiny miniature wheat is just – you know,
you know you're dealing with a whole other realm than you've ever
experienced.

GROSS: Stop-motion photography was developed, I think, for the movie
"King Kong," used again in "Mighty Joe Young" and other adventure films.
Were you a big fan of "King Kong" when you were growing up or when you
became an adult?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, I loved "King Kong." You know, when I grew up, I
think when I became aware of stop-motion was – I can't remember the name
of the guy, Willis(ph), maybe is – something like Willis is the guy who
did the stop-motion on "King Kong," and his protégé was Ray Harryhausen,
who's sort of the most famous stop-motion guy ever. And he did a number
– and the ones that I saw were the ones that are sort of Greek
mythology, this "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," "Jason and the Argonauts,"
there's another Sinbad movie also, things like the "Clash of the
Titans."

Those movies all have a big stop-motion element to them, and I really
loved them as a kid. And also there were these TV – the holiday specials
that the Rankin/Bass Company did, the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,"
and there was one about – there's one that's sort of the story of how
Santa Claus came to be. Those were ones that I – we were – my brothers
and I were really taken with.

GROSS: What did you love about the look of those films?

Mr. ANDERSON: I think it's that – I think there's actually something
slightly primitive about the way it's accomplished. I mean, you know,
it's a difficult and painstaking, careful thing to do, stop-motion, but
you sense that somebody is doing this with their hands. You're a bit
aware of how the illusion, which is a very effective illusion, but
you're a bit aware of how the illusion is being created.

In our movie, we, for instance, used cotton balls to make smoke and the
water is made from Saran Wrap, really, just manipulating Saran Wrap
frame by frame. And fire is made with – you know that kind of orange,
translucent soap that you can – that sort of gelatin-type soap? We carve
it and light through it, and you know, and use different pieces, and
that's how fire is made.

So they’re all kind of things where if you just look at a frame, you can
see exactly what it is, but when it moves, it – you – it represents
something else in a kind of wonderful way.

GROSS: Now, the colors in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" are wonderful. The palette
is mostly very, like, autumnal, particularly at the beginning. It's just
kind of like glowing with yellows and golds and oranges. How did you
choose the palette for the film?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, you know, for some reason – actually, what happened
was I went to visit Dahl's house, Gipsy House, it's called, in Great
Missenden, in England, and it was autumn, and it was muddy. And I left
the – and when I went there, you know, that's where he had written the
book. It's also where it's set.

I left there feeling like, well, this is the setting of the movie and
also feeling like maybe it's not going to be a very colorful place.
Maybe it's not rolling green hills. And then once – but the thing is
with a movie like this, once you – if you make a decision like that, if
you say, well, we're not going to have any green, we're not even going
to even have a blue sky, we're going to have the skies be pink, because
you have so much control, it really – you can – you know, I mean,
there's literally nothing that's green. There's nothing that’s blue.

You know, there's a character who's a kind of foreign character who
comes in, and he has some different things. But, you know, the grass is
made of yellow towels, essentially. So suddenly, it’s really - it kind
of does take a jump from reality. But I think at the beginning of the
movie, you sort of sense that it's the same all the way through the
movie, but you quickly sort of adjust to it. And, you know, your eye
just accepts this as the sort of palette of the world.

GROSS: Wes Anderson will be back in the second half of the show. He
directed and co-write "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which opens Wednesday. Here's
a funny song from the film, with lyrics by Anderson and his co-
screenwriter, Noah Baumbach, and music by Jarvis Cocker, who also sings
the song and plays a character in the film. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Wes Anderson.

He directed and co-wrote the new animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox,”
which is adapted from the Roald Dahl children’s book. It uses miniature
animal puppets and miniature sets, animated through stop-motion
photography. The lead voices are George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason
Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Anderson also directed “Rushmore,” “The
Royal Tenenbaums” and “Darjeeling Limited.”

Now, so many films, there’s a message for children that it’s okay to be
different. And there’s a wonderful moment in the film where Mrs. Fox
tells her son, who has been very frustrated - she says to him, I know
what it’s like to be different. And he says, but I’m not different, am
I?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDERSON: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I thought that was really funny. Can you just, like, talk about
that moment and…

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: …that character of the son.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes. This is the character who, you know, in the book
there are four children or cubs, I guess, you know, anyway four little
foxes that are the offspring of the main characters. And we sort of
consolidated that into one son. And we gave him a visiting cousin that
he is sort of overshadowed by. And Jason Schwartzman plays that
character and he is a misfit and he is somebody who – his father doesn’t
quite – he doesn’t quite register in the father’s eyes. The father is –
you know, he likes him but he is not particularly impressed with him.
And he’s got a real kind of anger and tension trying to prove himself.

GROSS: When the cousin comes over - the cousin is just kind of perfect.
The cousin excels in everything. He does perfect dives, karate, yoga. So
there’s this dynamic between the son who feels like he’s not measuring
up and the cousin who just seems like perfect. Was there a dynamic like
that in your childhood?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, it’s funny, I didn’t think, you know, I – when we
were writing it, I sort of - I was a bit inspired by something I’d seen
on an after-school TV special when I was a child. But my younger brother
who actually plays the visiting cousin, who’s called Kristofferson, my
younger brother told somebody, who then relayed to me that he felt the
relation between the brother and the cousin in the movie was based
entirely on the relationship between me and our older brother, who is
and always was very talented. And he is very polite but he is just very
accomplished and, you know, played piano by ear when he was five years
old and always had great grades and was great at every sports. And
there’s this aspect of his personality – and when I heard that I
thought, well, of course, that’s exactly what it is. But it never would
have occurred to me if, you know, if Eric hadn’t told me.

GROSS: How much older is he than you?

Mr. ANDERSON: He is 15 months.

GROSS: Oh, that’s really close.

Mr. ANDERSON: To be precise, yeah.

GROSS: So, did you feel competitive with him?

Mr. ANDERSON: I didn’t feel competitive. I felt inferior.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDERSON: Simply inferior.

GROSS: And resigned to it?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes. Because the thing is, he was also very protective of
me. So it wasn’t really, you know, there was no chance to feel
competitive. It was just something you accept and, you know, live with.
And the other thing is, he did - he gave us an example which we, you
know, tried to live up to.

GROSS: And I guess you did?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, I - he is a doctor. I’ve done something so different
from what he does. But he – you know, he is a very good writer. He was
always a good writer. So, yeah, he did – he inspired Eric and I both
because our younger brother is also a writer.

GROSS: Hmm. Now there’s a sport that’s played in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
And I think this is a sport that you made up, that’s not in the book.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And it’s called Whackbat. I want to play a short scene in which
the rules of the game are explained. These are like wonderful rules. And
Owen Wilson, who is in a lot of your movies, he plays the coach. And in
the scene, what we’re going to hear is the coach explaining the rules of
Whackbat to the perfect cousin, Kristofferson, because he is going to
put Kristofferson in as a replacement for Ash. So, the coach is played
by Owen Wilson, who is in a lot of your films. Ash is played by Jason
Schwartzman and the cousin is played by your brother, Eric Anderson.

(Soundbite of movie, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)

Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (As Coach Skip) Basically, there’s three
grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and the player at Whackbat.
Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the
whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the
twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the
umpire calls hotbox. Finally, at the end, you count up however many
score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine.

Mr. ERIC ANDERSON (Actor): (As Kristofferson) Got it.

(Soundbite of whistle)

Mr. WILSON: (As Coach Skip) Go in for Ash. Substitution. Ash come out.
You need a breather.

Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (As Ash) What? Come out? Why? I still
feel good coach. Let me finish this eighth.

Mr. WILSON: (As Coach Skip) No, no, come on, step out. Step out. Let’s
go.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ash) Am I getting better, coach?

Mr. WILSON: (As Coach Skip) Well, you’re sure as cuss not getting any
worse.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ash) Really? You mean, you think I can end up being
as good as my dad if I keep practicing?

Mr. WILSON: (As Coach Skip) Your dad? Your dad was probably the best
Whackbat player we ever had in this school. No, you don’t want to have
to compare yourself to that.

GROSS: That’s another scene from “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” I love the
description of rules of Whackbat. And if you’re not an athlete and don’t
follow sports closely, that’s how a lot of sports rules…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …sound to you.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes.

GROSS: So, what about you? Do you follow sports carefully or do they all
sound as ridiculous as Whackbat?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, you know, I used to follow certain sports so much
more carefully, like the 1975 baseball season. I know every single –
every detail of it. But I know absolutely nothing about it right now.
And I used to follow tennis very closely. But cricket, for instance, is
incomprehensible to me. You know, we made the movie in England and
trying to – and I hadn’t really watched a cricket match before. In fact,
I had seen couple in India. But I’ve never been able to grasp the first
thing about how this - how that operates. It doesn’t really seem to make
any sense but this game has especially complicated rules.

GROSS: My guest is Wes Anderson. He directed and co-wrote the new film
“Fantastic Mr. Fox.” More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Wes Anderson. We’re
talking about his new film “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which is adapted from
the Roald Dahl children’s book. He also wrote and directed “Rushmore,”
“The Royal Tennenbaums,” and “Darjeeling Limited.” Your new film,
“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is almost like a musical in the sense that there’s
so much underscoring through the film and then there’s some records used
through the film. And so, I want to talk a little about the music. Let’s
start with why there is so much of it in the movie.

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, you know, with most animated films it’s sort of wall
to wall music and I didn’t really expect to do that. But I guess what
usually happens with me is I sort of put in as much music as the movie
feels like it’s willing to accommodate. I like music in movies. In the
case of this one, I had a couple of ideas at the beginning.

One, was that I thought the score could have a kind of “Peter and the
Wolf” element where we would assign certain instruments to different
characters. And it ended up being that, you know, Mr. Fox sort of has
this banjo that goes with him and the farmers have different horns and,
you know, there’s a rat that has sort of whistling in a Spanish style, a
kind of flamenco guitar. But the main score is written by Alexandre
Desplat, who sort of took a lot of different influences and ideas that
we had and pulled them all together and invented his own version of all
that.

GROSS: The very first song that we hear though is this…

(Soundbite of song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”)

THE WELLINGTONS (Band): (Singing) Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods, so’s he
knew every tree, killed him a bear when he was only three. Davy, Davy
Crockett, king of the wild frontier.

GROSS: So, what is “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” from the Walt Disney TV
show doing in your movie?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, I, somewhere along the way I started thinking, you
know, often I don’t really know exactly why I suddenly say - have an
idea like this. And in this case I almost felt like his hat may have a
relationship to our main character but…

GROSS: Because of the tail - because of the tail on the costume hat?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, just because, you know, he looked like he’d be
wearing Mr. Fox on his head. But at a certain point I started sort of
thinking that I would like to use music from children’s films and
children’s entertainment, anyway. And we ended up with – we have Davy
Crockett, that’s at the beginning of the movie, and we have three
different songs that are by Burl Ives, who was actually in some of the –
when I referred to the Rankin-Bass holiday specials, he’s involved in at
least one of them. And we have music from the Disney “Robin Hood.” And
so it sort of became the part of the whole - you know, there’s – we have
lots of – we also have the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.

GROSS: And I want to play some more music. When Mr. Fox goes to steal
very highly alcoholic apple cider from the cellar of one of the very
mean and greedy farmers, he comes face to face with the cellar guard,
which is a psychotic, crazy rat armed with a knife. You want to describe
what he looks like?

Mr. ANDERSON: He’s sort of a beatnik. He’s a very tall, skinny – I mean,
stands on his hind legs, rat with red eyes, stripped – red and white
stripped sweater, which actually had to be – was knitted by hand. If you
saw this rat sweater, when it was sent to us finished, you know, this
woman had been knitting for six weeks, this little rat sweater. And
switchblade and his movements are sort of “West Side Story.” We used Bob
Fosse footage as a reference sometimes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, that’s great. So, you mentioned you wanted the characters to
have “Peter and the Wolf” type music, where each have an identifying
theme. I want to play the rat’s theme. And this sounds to me as if Ennio
Morricone was writing for Road Runner cartoons instead of brutal
Westerns.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, here’s the theme music composed by Alexandre Desplat, the
theme music for the rat.

(Soundbite of theme music, “Just Another Dead Rat in a Garbage Pail”)

GROSS: What did you tell Alexandre Desplat, the composer - am I saying
his name right, by the way?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, that’s about right. Alexandre Desplat.

GROSS: Okay. Desplat. Okay, what did you tell him you wanted for the
rat’s theme?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, I, you know, I had put in some Ennio Morricone music
at a certain point. So, that was part of our conversation. You know, he
is very inventive and, you know, he is enormously talented. He made the
score for the movie “Birth,” which is one of my favorite film scores and
also the “Queen.” And I, you know, I had the greatest time with him
because he just is always – he works very quickly. His ideas come very
rapidly. And in the case of this piece, he also does the whistling. He’s
a very good whistler.

GROSS: Oh, that’s great, I love that kind of whistling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, I know.

GROSS: …very few people can do that.

Mr. ANDERSON: He can do it. We also had, you know, we recorded it all at
Abbey Road in London and he had – he has a whole, you know, group of
musicians that he’s worked with many times there. There was a guy named
Paul Clarvis(ph), is his name, who plays every possible kind of
percussion. And he plays the Jew’s Harp on that track and he just was
like a virtuoso Jew’s Harp player, with these Mongolians Jew’s Harps
that he had brought in.

GROSS: Are you kind of exhausted? This film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” must
have taken so much work because it’s so detailed between the puppets and
stop-motion photography.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, with a live action movie, your day is one shot after
– you have the shots that you want to get done in that day. And you do
them consecutively. You finish one, you move quickly on to the next one.
And at the end of the day, the sun goes down or something happens – you
finish the number of hours, whatever it is that’s going to end your day.

With a stop-motion film, we would usually have over 20, let’s say, we
might have 25 shots being animated simultaneously each on a different
little unit. And simultaneously there are other units that are being -
where the sets are being built and they’re being dressed and
constructed. And the puppets department is preparing puppets that may
not have been introduced yet into the cast. And, you know, there’s a
whole editorial thing with storyboard artists. And my job, in the course
of this film, is bouncing back and forth from different questions among
all this whole group of people as they slowly, slowly, slowly make their
way forward and at the end of the day nothing is really finished.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right. That must be fulfilling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDERSON: But the interesting thing is even though it’s so slow and
requires this very careful attention, you know, it’s - there are so many
things happening at once that there’s excitement and, you know, it does
feel like a lots happening.

GROSS: Did you show all the actors what the puppet versions of
themselves would look like so that they’d know what the body would be
that their voice would be inside of?

Mr. ANDERSON: To some degree, most of the initial recordings were all
done before any of these puppets existed. We’ve recorded much of the
cast at a farm in Connecticut. And, we sort of, made a documentary
recording of the dialogue for the movie.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ANDERSON: The puppets were all works in progress but we has some
drawings and things. So, I showed them drawings and I don’t know the
degree to which they even thought about those things. I know Meryl
Streep – I feel like – Meryl Streep, she told me that she had a moment
just before we started recording this where she saw a fox on her
doorstep in England. And the fox looked up and saw her and they just
stared at each other for five minutes. And she sort of had this
mesmerizing moment with this animal. And she says she just sort of
thought about that.

GROSS: Wes Anderson, thank you so much for talking with us and
congratulations on the film.

Mr. ANDERSON: Thank you, Terry. Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Wes Anderson directed and co-wrote the new movie, "Fantastic Mr.
Fox." It opens Wednesday. Here’s more of Alexandre Desplat’s music from
the film.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
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Larry David’s Dysfunctional Family Reunion

TERRY GROSS, host:

The HBO comedy series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," created by and starring
Larry David, presented its season finale last night with an episode
capping a year-long storyline about Larry finally agreeing to a reunion
show of "Seinfeld," which he created with Jerry Seinfeld.

Our TV Critic David Bianculli loved both programs: the show, and the
show within the show.

DAVID BIANCULLI: Only Larry David could have gotten away with what he
just pulled off on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." That’s not just praise for
his ability as a brilliant sitcom writer and improviser. It’s also a
plain fact. After Larry and Jerry Seinfeld ended "Seinfeld" when it was
the top-rated sitcom on television, Larry, the behind-the-scenes co-
creator, went out on his own. He created "Curb," playing an exaggerated
version of himself. Larry David, the guy who co-created "Seinfeld," made
skillions of dollars, but still found endless irritations in everyday
life.

He was the first of the "Seinfeld," gang to succeed in a new venture,
and the premise set him up, years later, to attempt the unthinkable: to
bring everyone back for a "Seinfeld" reunion show. He and Jerry would
never think of doing it for NBC, their old bosses, for real. That would
be too ordinary. But to do it for HBO as part of a complicated plot that
has the TV Larry agreeing to do an NBC reunion special only so he can
get back together with his estranged wife - that’s not only different,
it’s perverse. With the old "Seinfeld" sets pulled out of storage and
the old cast members reunited, this entire season of "Curb," has been a
flirtation with this alternate reality.

And like some not-quite-real Bizarro world - a "Superman" reference the
real Jerry Seinfeld no doubt would appreciate - the whole thing came to
a head this weekend when HBO bought ad time to promote - during NBC’s
"Saturday Night Live" - the "Curb," season finale.

(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" commercial)

Mr. JERRY SEINFELD (Actor): (as himself) We already screwed up one
finale. We can’t do another.

Mr. LARRY DAVID (Actor): (as himself) We didn’t screw up a finale. That
was a good finale.

Unidentified Man: The season finale of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," only on
HBO.

BIANCULLI: Think of how much salt HBO was rubbing in NBC’s wounds with
that ad. Eleven years ago, "Seinfeld" was the hugest thing on TV, and
NBC had it. But in 2009, the "Seinfeld," cast reunited on cable TV
instead, while NBC’s peacock has so little plumage left, it’s in danger
of being killed and served at Thanksgiving. But the amazing thing about
this "Curb"-"Seinfeld" combo platter is how beautifully everyone
delivered. Jerry and Larry worked together brilliantly, and you can
actually sense the chemistry that made them such a creative team.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who's doing her own stellar sitcom work on "The New
Adventures of Old Christine" on CBS, was a riot as an older-but-still-
not-wiser Elaine. Michael Richards - banished to show-biz limbo after
his racist rant three years ago - allowed himself to be the butt of
jokes on that very topic. And Jason Alexander, as Larry David’s alter
ego George Costanza, had an obvious ball portraying himself as someone
who didn’t like Larry all that much and certainly didn’t care for the
original "Seinfeld" finale.

Slowly, over several episodes, the "Curb," version of the "Seinfeld,"
reunion began to take shape. Larry had to overcome several obstacles,
but finally succeeded in casting his estranged wife Cheryl - played so
endearingly by Cheryl Hines - in the show. That’s the clever plot of,
"Curb." But the plot of "Seinfeld," the reunion show itself, was just as
good. When we got to see all the actors at what’s called a table read -
the first pass at reading aloud a new script - what I was knocked out by
was how well-written it was.

The reunion show plot, filling in the lives of the characters over the
intervening years, had George marrying Amanda - the character to be
played by Cheryl - becoming a mega-millionaire after developing a
particularly useful iPhone application, then divorcing Amanda and losing
his money to Bernie Madoff. The table read with Jason Alexander as
George and Cheryl Hines as Amanda, made it clear. This would have made a
terrific episode of "Seinfeld," for real.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Unidentified Man (Actor): D and H(ph) - it's in the coffee shop. This is
day four: George, Amanda.

Mr. JASON ALEXANDER (Actor): (as George Costanza) I’ve been dreading
having to tell you about the whole Madoff thing.

Ms. CHERYL HINES (Actor): (as Cheryl, as Amanda) Oh, well.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (as George Costanza) You must hate me for losing our
money like that. We’re wiped out.

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl, as Amanda) Actually, I’m fine, George.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (as George Costanza) Fine?

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl, as Amanda) Yeah. I took my half out of Madoff
right after we got divorced.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALEXANDER: (as George Costanza) You what?

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl, as Amanda) Yeah. I still have my half.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (as George Costanza) Why did you take it out?

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl, as Amanda) I bumped into Madoff on the street one
day, and he was wearing this quilted jacket with the collar up. And for
some reason, it creeped me out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl, as Amanda) So the next day, I pulled all my money
out. Turns out, I did quite well by him.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (as George Costanza) Collar up? Creeped you out? That’s
my money. You have my money.

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl, as Amanda) Not according to laws of the State of
New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: And then, last night, came the capper. I thought Larry David
had reached his career peak with the season-long producer's storyline of
"Curb," but last night’s show was even better. It actually gave us, in
miniature, another episode of "Seinfeld." But it also gave us happy
endings and unhappy ones when we didn’t expect them, and also served up
the delicious plot twist that had Cheryl becoming attracted to Jason.
That meant Larry was competing with and losing to the guy who played
Larry’s doppelganger on "Seinfeld."

And he was losing her precisely because he cast her in the show. That’s
when, on this "Curb" season finale, Larry flips, Jason walks out, and to
save the reunion show and his chances with Cheryl, Larry offers up a
desperate solution, which the other cast members reject immediately -
Jerry Seinfeld. especially.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Mr. MICHAEL RICHARDS: (as himself) Okay. So how do we do the show
without Jason?

Mr. SEINFELD: (as himself) It's just a script, Larry. There’s no show
without Jason. I mean, you don't even the show. What do you have? Yeah,
you’ve a three-legged goat here.

Mr. RICHARDS: (as himself) So what are we doing?

Mr. SEINFELD: (as himself) I don’t know. We’re not doing anything.

Mr. RICHARDS: (as himself) Larry, what do you want to do?

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) I’ll play George.

Ms. JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (as herself) What?

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) I’ll play George. I’ll play George.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: (as herself) What?

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) I can do it.

Mr. SEINFELD: (as himself) Play what? George’s butler? What do you mean?

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) No. I will play George Costanza. I can do it. I
know I can. I wrote it. The character's based on me. There were two
Darrens…

Mr. SEINFELD: (as himself) Yeah.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) …on "Bewitched."

Mr. SEINFELD: (as himself) Nobody liked that second Darren. I didn’t
care for the second Darren.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) But you bought it.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: (as herself) Oh, my God.

Mr. SEINFELD: (as himself) Do you understand what this is? This is
iconic television here. The set's an icon. He's an icon. She's an icon.
He was an icon - icon, no con. There's no John, Paul, George and Larry.
It’s not what they want.

BIANCULLI: Actually, by this point, they’re all icons - even Larry.
"Curb Your Enthusiasm," is the best TV comedy of the year, and last
night’s finale didn’t let me down. It lifted me up. And the fact that
the "Seinfeld" reunion took place on cable, not broadcast TV - well,
that’s a perfect analogy for quality TV as it exists today. More and
more, cable TV is where it's at. Broadcast TV is where it was.

GROSS: David Bianculli writes for tvworthwatching.com and teaches TV and
film at Rowan University.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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